A Cold Winter for Santa in Sunland, California

Department store Santa Claus Patrick Turnbull has hoisted children onto his lap and listened to their Christmas wishes for two decades in Sunland, California, but the Golden State has prevented him from doing it this year. Being the Jolly Old Elf would put afoul of state law AB5, which severely restricts contract work.

“It is easier to be Santa as an independent contractor because it is seasonal work,” Turnbull explained in a video for the Independent Women’s Forum. “[AB5] makes independent contractors, especially in my line of work, entertaining, more expensive.”

That’s because Turnbull technically works for an agent that gets him the jobs as a Santa. AB5, an anti-“worker misclassification” law, requires the agent treat Turnbull as a full-time employee rather than a contractor. That means following the various state and federal laws for employers, such collecting taxes. Giving the short-term, seasonal nature of being a Santa, the agent cannot afford to do that.

It is especially unwelcome this year, Turnbull noted, because the COVID-19 outbreak has made work as a Santa harder to come by. “2020 being what it is, we get a double-whammy,” he said.

Turnbull’s fellow Californians are at least sympathetic but they still may not understand his situation. Earlier this month, Californians passed Proposition 22, by a lopsided 58-42 percent margin. That rolled back the main part of AB5, which targeted gig economy companies like rideshare services Uber and Lyft. However, Proposition 22 only repealed the part of AB5 that targeted those “app-based ride-share and delivery drivers.” Before the election, AB5’s own authors amended the law to exempt numerous traditionally freelance professions, such as musicians, when those workers complained the law was restricting their work too. Those exemptions, coupled with the passage of Proposition 22, have created the impression that AB5 has been repealed entirely.

In fact, the underlying law is still on the books and continues to undermine numerous professions like Turbull’s. In some ways, the situation is even worse because there is now a considerable gray area regarding who exactly AB5 still covers. Given that most of the law has already been gutted, the California legislature should repeal it entirely to remove these lingering issues. The law was clearly #Neverneeded in the first place.

As Turnbull’s Santa put it, “If [AB5] was a person, it would get no gift from me.”